Acronym v. Initialism

Why is abbreviation such a long word? Ha ha. But seriously, I’m often frustrated by the use of the word acronym when initialism is meant, or even the more general abbreviation.

Acronyms and initialisms are both abbreviations. And because our English language is descriptive, it is evolving and we should accept that people will use the language in the way it makes most sense to them. Often enough, in my opinion, people just don’t know the right word to use, so they use a different word and other people seem to allow the error to propagate. At which point, dictionary publishers will include the new definition alongside the correct one.

To quote from Today I Found Out:

Acronyms, of course, are abbreviations where the abbreviation is formed from letters of other words (usually the first letter of each word, though not always). The part of the definition of acronym that many people miss is that the resulting abbreviation needs to be pronounceable as a word. Examples of this would be things like RAM (Random Access Memory); LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation); NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).

Initialisms are very similar to acronyms in that they are made up of letters of some name or phrase, usually the first letter of each word as is common with acronyms. The difference between an acronym and initialism is that the abbreviation formed with initialisms is not pronounced as a word, rather you say the individual letters, such as FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), and DVD (Digital Video Disk*).

And, of course, if it’s just a shortened form of a word, like “ex.” for “example”, then it’s neither an acronym nor an initialism, rather just an abbreviation.

Don’t even start me on backronyms!

So now you know. And I’d like to keep these three definitions in tact for as long as possible.